Ultimate Vape and Head Shops Guide.
Helping you feel at ease when buying marijuana-smoking merchandise from a local Smoke Shop
Head shops. Let’s face it, they’re not exactly riddles, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Despite strict advertising laws which limit what smoke shops can and can’t tell you, everyone, including your gran, the dullest guy in the office (you know him, the one who was sadly born without a personality), and every single anti-marijuana lobbyist will know what type of items are being sold in the dark, murky, sometimes psychedelic depths of a head shop. And you’d better believe that everyone, yes, everyone, knows that about 99.9 percent of all smoke shop customers will never use their purchased items as strictly intended, or for collection purposes only.
And that’s amazing really because none of us were raised with this knowledge. We weren’t taught about head shops at an early age by a wizened old stoner sat on a rock, toes twiddling in his hemp sandals whilst chewing on a chillum. Smoke shops weren’t ever discussed at tween sleepovers, they’ve never been covered in Chemistry 101, and there has never been an established coming of age tradition where a father can take his son to a headshop on his 18th birthday and proudly exclaim, “Son, because you are now a man, you can finally learn the secrets of the smoke shop.”
Instead, what seems to have happened is that the secretive smoke shop has been woven into the very fabrics of our folklore. The little hints that some headshops give, the brazen psychedelic colors, the peace signs, the Rastafarian colors, or the overwhelmingly dark and dingy ambiance hark back to swinging 60s. So despite most shops being emblazoned with signs screaming “TOBACCO”, “TOBACCO ONLY HERE MY FRIEND!”, we still know that they’re the places where people can go to buy a vast cornucopia of pot-smoking paraphernalia.
But for those who have never ventured into one, and even for some ardent stoners, head shops can be daunting places to visit. How do you even go about finding if there’s one near you? How do you know if you’ve found a legitimate shop? What can or can’t you talk about when asking the staff questions and talking about their products? What are the pros and cons of visiting a smoke shop rather than buying what you need from an online headshop? Luckily, the team at Vape.net have created a handy guide to head shops which should help answer all your questions.
Why are they called head shops?
In 1911, the words “drug” and “head” were first combined by doctors to describe someone as being an addict. As many narcotics seemed to affect the brain, giving many users a cerebral high, the term stuck.
Back in the hazy days of the 1960s, was playing over the radio waves. The last line, “Feed your head” was interpreted as a message to go out, get high and expand your consciousness. The message was received loud and clear by the hippies and drug heads of the time, and they took that lyric and transformed it into the term “head shop” which they used, like a code, to describe tobacco shops which stocked weed-smoking accouterments. Meant to be elusive and confusing, it was never going to be the hardest code to crack by the five-oh who were always on the lookout to bust anyone smoking green or buying a water pipe, but asking for directions to the headshop was far better than blatantly asking someone “Excuse me Sir/Madam, do you happen to know where one can go to buy a bong, man?”, no matter how politely you phrased the question.
It’s also worth nothing, for balance, that some people think the term head shop came about in the 1960s thanks to acid taking aficionados who were fans of the Grateful Dead. To them, “head” is actually an acronym for “He Eats Acid Daily.” However the etymology came about, in essence, a headshop’s mission was to help its clients “feed their heads.”
Is it better to buy items from a local smoke shop rather than ordering products from an online head shop?
We’re afraid to say it, but the team at Vape.net are divided on this! Half of us think it is better, half of us don’t. We can smell the pungent whiff of a debate coming on!
The modern smoke shop – a double-edged sword
Head shops are nicer and easier to look around and you have friendly members of staff you can approach if you any questions
Products are always displayed nice and clearly in a head shop, so you know exactly what’s in stock, and there’s a reassurance that what’s there, is there. When you’re browsing online you sometimes find it difficult to stop perusing different online head shops for fear that you’re missing out on an amazing piece or an amazing deal and this pressure can spoil your shopping experience. In a local shop, you’re okay knowing that you’ve got to make a choice from what you see.
From our experiences, staff have always been friendly and knowledgeable about the products they stock, although we openly admit that you can only have informative conversations with them if you rigidly stick to their versions of Head shop Etiquette and basically speak in code. It is true that you can’t just openly speak about drug use, bongs, or portable marijuana vaporizers, etc. So yes, we’ve found that shopping locally is better than shopping online because you always have a staff member to approach if you have any questions. Unless an online head shop has real-time customer support via a chat room, if you have any questions you’re going to have to spend time writing an e-mail or filling in a form just to get any answers, and they usually appear as spam in your inbox a couple of days later. It’s not worth it when you can go to a smoke shop and talk to another human being.
Head shops aren’t dispensaries where it’s important for the staff to be knowledgeable and passionate about marijuana. Most smoke shop owners don’t require their colleagues to know jack about how to use a bong for tobacco or herbs, let alone weed. From our personal experience and from hearsay, many workers at head shops are surly and standoffish and they aren’t eager to offer any advice if they actually had any to give. That’s not their fault, though, we can’t imagine having to deal with the wide range of folks that lurch, barge their way, or creep into smoke shops whilst carrying the weight of their oppressive State’s legal system on their shoulders. Why shop in a store whereby the owners can’t be transparent and talk about what everyone knows is going on for fear of being shut down?
This whole Head shop Etiquette thing has stemmed from the cloak and dagger aspect of shops dabbling in the cannabis industry, and it’s stuck to our counter-culture like an ugly barnacle, or Chuck Norris’s angry beard. Honestly, what’s the point of going to a shop where you can’t call things by their actual name? Why must we be mocked by the little signs reminding us and other clientele that what we’re looking at are for “collection purposes” only, and what is the point of going to a shop where you could be kicked out and banned for forgetting yourself and calling a vape pen a portable marijuana vaporizer? No-one should have to worry about being booted out of a smoke shop by a small, angry, pierced, tattooed, dreadlocked, patchouli-smelling retail girl holding a broom screaming “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” We have our dignity, thank you. We’d rather order online.
Head shops allow customers to hold and inspect their items before being purchased and you don’t have to wait for your items to be delivered
Head shops aren’t as expensive as people think.
Physical head shops are more trustworthy than online retailers
So there you have it, smoke shops are like Marmite, you either love them, or you hate them.
They have their pros:
- You can inspect your items before purchasing them
- You don’t have to wait for your items to be delivered, you can use them as soon as you get home, instant gratification!
- Physical head shops are more affordable than people think, plus you’re supporting your local economy and local glassblowers, etc.
- There is always going to be someone on-hand to ask questions to about the products if you have any
- Even the atmosphere and ambiance make visiting a local head shop worth the visit
They also have their cons:
- You must follow the store’s own Head shop Etiquette lest you be kicked out and possibly banned
- You may feel uncomfortable walking into and browsing around a local head shop. It’s certainly not a private experience that’s for sure, and you may be mistaken for a nark or policeman if you hover too long
- If you pay using a Credit or Debit card or check instead of cash, the head shop knows who you are and can use that against you
- You can still be at risk from buying shoddy merchandise, just the same as if you were shopping online. Just because a shop claims that they’re selling marijuana-inhalation merchandise made in the USA or Canada, doesn’t mean it’s true. A very large percentage of pipes, bongs, bubblers and plastic vape pens are made using sweatshop labor, dangerous materials, and bad manufacturing practices
How to: Find a great headshop
Okay, so you’ve decided to give a smoke shop a whirl. How are you going to find one where you’re not going to be bitterly disappointed or feel uncomfortable whilst getting a good deal?
- Use a site like Headshop Finder to find head shops located near you.
- Browse the sites and pick out a couple of smoke shops which really stand out to you. Maybe a customer comment will catch your eye, mentioning how great an atmosphere a shop has, or how comfortable the staff make their customers feel. Or maybe you’re just like some of the Vape.net team who are magpies and love anything shiny, so the photographs may have drawn you in.
- Research each shop. A brilliant and legitimate head shop will always have positive, but honest reviews from previous customers, so it’s always worth checking the shop’s website or business review sites like Yelp, Google, or the Better Business Bureau. These snippets of information are valuable as they’ll reveal whether the staff working there are polite, passionate about weed, and knowledgeable about their range of products. You will also get insight into whether the products are high-quality, that their range is good, whether it’s a nice environment to buy from, or if there is an etiquette to follow.
- You will want to have some knowledge of what the fair market price is for the items you’re looking to buy (so that you can negotiate on the cost when you get to the store) and what to be looking for whilst shopping (so you know whether you’re buying a high-quality piece or not). Check out our guide on how to tell whether an item is worth the money.
- Set a budget.
- Learn the lingo:
Headshop Etiquette – The Dos and Don’ts of a Smoke Shop
Wait. What?! An etiquette? In a glorified Pot Shop?
Surprising, isn’t it? We stoners actually have protocol and formalities! Yes, a lot of head shops have an etiquette to follow, which, as we discovered earlier, stems from the shady history of enjoying cannabis back in the 60s. Unfortunately, because there’s a restriction of terms which the government or owners of the smoke shops themselves consider being indications that what people are buying is going to be used for illegal activity, you can’t just come out and say what you want. However, it is worth remembering that whilst most established head shops have an unwritten, unspoken code of conduct, many new and contemporary smoke shops, typically in the States where marijuana or at least medicinal marijuana is legal, forego these formalities. That’s why it’s important to check whether you’ll need to be discreet or not, at your chosen head shop.
- Can I check out that Bong, please? – No, you can’t, because that’s actually a Water Pipe
- Can I take a closer look at that Chillum, please? – No, you can’t, because that’s a Tasting Pipe
- Hey, can I have a couple of packs of those Joint Papers? – Er, no, these are just Cigarette Papers, no bud here Sir, just tobacco
- Do you stock Apogee Bongs? – No, those don’t exist, what we do have though are these lovely Incense Holders though
- I need something to help me Pass a Drug Test – Woah, woah, woah, what you actually need is a Detox System
- Could I buy that Weed Pipe right there? No, because that’s actually a Hand Pipe
- What about Kief Boxes or Kief Presses, do you sell those? No, just these Pollen Boxes, or Pollen Presses
- Which Hash Bell would you recommend? – None, however, this Skillet is pretty good
- I’m looking for a pipe which I can use with Hash or Butane Oil – No you’re not, you’re looking for a pipe that can be used with Concentrates
If you are ever in doubt about what to call an item, simply point at it and ask, the employee of the shop will know what the right language is for the item in question.
Also, never come in with your own items, most head shop staff will flip out if they see you coming in with a vape pen or a downstem. They’re worried that because they’re not brand new, they’ll have traces of illegal substances on them, and they don’t want anything to do with that. So if you’re searching for a replacement part to your pot smoking paraphernalia, just come in with a piece of paper with the brand/dimensions/etc. that you’re looking for.
Never ask for weed hookups
Treat all items like they were your baby!
Never put your lips to bongs or turn vaporizers on.
Arriving at the shop
- The very first thing most shops will do is ask you for your valid ID (being valid means that the ID is original, is still in-date, has a clear photograph, and, if you use a Credit or Debit card, the name matches the plastic). Shopkeepers need to verify that you’re above the age of 18, 19 in some States, unless you appear to be over the age of 35, then you just look old! You should be prepared to show your ID to the clerk immediately and it shows them that you understand how things work and that you’re a serious customer. If you don’t have any ID on you, don’t bother going in. Remember, smoke shop staff don’t want to A) lose their business and B) go to jail because some sneaky underage delinquent has slipped through their fingers and managed to buy a bong, hence why having ID is so important.
- Check yourself before you wreck yourself! Don’t forget the lingo or the etiquette.
- It’s always worth being on the look-out for oddly shaped items, unsteady bases, or scratched items which don’t affect the performance of a piece, but could warrant a discount. It’s really worth a try, what have you got to lose?
What to do if you’re asked to leave
Just do as the store clerk asks, even if they’re being particularly rude or smug about it. They have their rules to follow, so it’s not worth wasting your breath trying to argue with them. Remember, the rules which govern the use of a tobacco license are very strict, head shops must maintain certain records, have certain signage and conform to certain language requirements when dealing with their clients. If an undercover cop was skulking about, which they often do, and they overhear you talking about joint papers, kief presses or bongs, well then, like the hippies and potheads of the 1960s, you might as well hang a sign around your head saying “I <3 Pot and I want to be arrested”. Not only that, the headshop could be closed down and taken to court. Headshops like we mentioned before, are a bit of a dicey experience.
If I’m asked to leave, does that mean I’m banned from coming back?
Don’t worry, if you’ve been banned from a headshop, you’ll know about it. The staff will make is explicitly clear. To get permanently banned will have meant that you’ve committed a truly outrageous offense, so if you’re only asked to leave, don’t worry about it. Just come back at a later date, and don’t repeat what it was which got you kicked out in the first place. And remember: